Anadarko Petroleum: An Overreaction to a Solid Operator

You're spot on if you think it's clearly a negative for a company to miss the consensus forecast for its earnings. But as an erstwhile analyst, I'm more than willing to factor in other elements before declaring that company's quarter an unmitigated disaster. It appears logical to adopt precisely that approach with Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC  ) .

As you may know, the company's earnings for the third quarter increased to $182 million, or $0.36 per share, from $121 million, or $0.24 per share, for the same quarter last year. Backing out one-time items, however, gives us $1.13 per share, compared with $0.84 per share for the third quarter of 2012. Where I went to school, that's a 35% pop, which unfortunately didn't meet the consensus estimate of $1.16 per share.

A little salt on the estimates
Forecasts by the analysts on complex companies can be off because of a number of factors, such as higher- or lower-than-anticipated commodities prices, something over which oil and gas producers have minimal control. It's also worth noting that not all corporate communications programs are created equal -- Anadarko's Wednesday post-release conference call left something to be desired. It's often the case that lick-and-promise information dispersal affects prognostication accuracy.

In any event, for my money, Anadarko's progress and direction both appear solid and befitting of what admittedly isn't a cheap valuation at a trailing price-earnings ratio of 27.3%. That's what can occur when a share price runs by that same 27% in a year.

A solid mix of operations
From an operating perspective, the news was largely positive. Onshore U.S. operations generated a 61,000 barrels-of-oil-equivalent hike in year-over-year daily average production. That, despite approximately 250 wells in Colorado's Wattenberg field remaining shut in, following massive September flooding in the field, which lies northeast of Denver.

Nevertheless, the Wattenberg remains one of Anadarko's proudest plays. A couple of weeks ago the company announced an exchange of approximately 50,000 acres with Noble Energy (NYSE: NBL  ) , the other big enchilada in the Wattenberg.

The swap will permit each of the companies to concentrate their respective efforts in the massive field. As Anadarko said in announcing the deal, "The trade is expected to achieve greater operating efficiencies, reduce costs and local impacts, and further improve safety performance."

The company also continues to advance in the Eagle Ford of South Texas and the West Texas Permian basin. As CEO Al Walker noted on his call, in the latter play -- specifically in the Wolfcamp shale of the Delaware basin -- the company "successfully evaluated six wells that are more than 15 miles apart, with each having initial production rates between 1,000 and 1,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day." Perhaps more importantly, that output is running at about 70% oil.

As part of its active Gulf of Mexico program, Anadarko installed an 80,000 barrels-per-day spar on the Lucius project in the Gulf of Mexico, where first production is expected next year. It's also progressing toward the start-up of production in the Gulf's Heidelberg field.

Outside the U.S.
Internationally, Anadarko and its partners in Algeria reached initial oil production from a second El Merk oil train, and drilled a pair of successful appraisal wells in Mozambique during the quarter. Also in Mozambique, in August the company sold 10% of its assets in the country for $2.64 billion.

On Wednesday, France's Total (NYSE: TOT  ) announced that it -- along with its partners, including Anadarko -- intends to spend as much as $300 million on exploratory wells on three offshore blocks in Ivory Coast next year. Oil and gas activity in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea has leaped since 2009, when a partnership that included Anadarko discovered the giant Jubilee field offshore Ghana. In April, Total discovered oil on a block in eastern waters off Ivory Coast, near Ghana.

Foolish takeaway
All in all, then, when I examine Anadarko Petroleum, I find an expanding company with an optimum blend of onshore U.S. success, Gulf of Mexico activity, and compelling international activities in safe locations. On that basis, I'd urge Fools to keep it on their watch lists. In fact, I wouldn't discourage initiating or adding to positions in the company for those with the patience to accept its current, somewhat lofty, valuation.

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